Did board member want Estero cheer coach fired?
Did one board member want Estero cheerleading coach fired?Photo: Video by fox4now.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Lee County Superintendent Joseph Burke told the school board the decision to fire Estero High School cheerleading coach and Hooters waitress Nicole Zivich was solely the decision of the school's principal George Clover.
"It was his decision," said Burke. "For us to pretend that this was something that the board or the superintendent directed, or that we made the decision to take action in this case, is just not accurate."
But public records obtained by Zivich seem to show that's exactly what happened.
In email after email Estero principal George Clover defends Zivich - telling a parent who sent multiple emails critical of Zivich that he thought she was "excellent in this role," that her "credentials for being a cheering coach are very solid" and that he was "thrilled" she was coaching.
While Burke says the firing was the principal's doing, his own words seem to suggest something else.
In emails, Burke says Clover "cannot continue to condone the behavior" described by that complaining parent. And a month before Zivich was fired, he told school board member Jeanne Dozier: "Mr. Clover has been advised to look for replacements."
So, if Clover had been "advised" to look for replacements, was the decision to fire Zivich really his own?
Fox 4 reached out to the district and the principal. Both say they can't comment on personnel issues.
All of this raises another concern - was the superintendent inappropriately lobbied by the school board's vice chair, Jeanne Dozier, to fire Zivich?
Burke said Tuesday Zivich's firing has nothing to do with her Hooters job, or the barrage of emails sent by a single parent on a crusade of criticism.
That parent, Susan Jacobse, it now appears had an ally in Dozier on the board who went to bat for her.
"I feel like they're all just covering it up right now," said Zivich, moments after pleading her case to the school board. "And Dr. Burke's easy way out is to blame it on my principal."
That blame, Zivich says, goes to Jacobse who sent the district at least 100 complaints against her.
A number of those complaints were sent to Dozier, who Jacobse admits campaigning for, and describes their relationship as friendly but professional.
At the Nov. 22 board meeting, Dozier addressed nearly 15 cheerleaders who spoke out in favor of Zivich, telling them: "Anytime there's issues that involve employment the board members are kind of out of that...realm."
"We really are not involved in that," she said.
But it seems Dozier was involved. Although she never directly called for Zivich's firing, she was clearly weighing in on the personnel issue.
According to her own emails, Dozier told Jacobse "no student should be placed in any more danger" - responding to concerns cheers were performed without mats.
On Sept. 19, Dozier tells Burke she was "very concerned" about "bad judgments" being made by Zivich. She told Burke it was "time for some form of action to be taken before something really bad occurs. Please take care of this right away."
She went on to say the principal, who supported Zivich, was not "the one to deal with this," saying it should be "dealt with" by someone "higher up the chain."
On Nov. 10, a little over a week before Zivich was canned, Dozier wrote to Burke:
"Joe this is really becoming out of control," she wrote. "Someone needs to demonstrate leadership and get that sponsor/adviser under control."
"I think there's clearly an intent to direct the superintendent to take some sort of personnel action," said former board member Bob Chilmonik. "Which is totally inappropriate for a school board member to be doing,"
Inappropriate because, as we discovered, the Florida School Board Association tells school board members: "Don't get involved in personnel matters."
And according to the district's own policy, the school board shall "limit its action to establishing policy."
"Why wasn't I brought down and asked, 'Hey what's going on?,'" asked Zivich.
"They never asked for your side of the story?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.
"Never," said Zivich.
We wanted to get Dozier's side of the story. Fox 4 called her at least three times over two days on her cell and at work.
We also reached out to the district by phone and email but our calls were ignored.
"Mrs. Dozier, Fox 4, can I ask you a couple questions?," Grant asked Dozier as she walked past him Tuesday.
The lack of answers is leaving Zivich and her squad frustrated as they continue to sit on the sidelines.
"I just feel like we're getting the run around," said Zivich. "We're not getting told what's actually happening."
Zivich says she plans to meet with a lawyer Thursday and wants to sue the district.
She also plans to file state ethics charges against Dozier.
The district will not comment on whether Dozier violated any policies saying it's a personnel matter.
Matt Grant, Reporter